Spy Hopping

Spy hopping is a colorfully named behavior of cetaceans—dolphins and whales. They stick their heads out of water to see what’s going on around them.

Killer whales (also called Orcas) and Humpback whales are the most frequent spy hoppers, although dozens of species do it. When spy hopping, the animals are more or less vertical, and maintain the position by sort of kicking with their tail flukes, something like people treading water. Individual whales have been known to spy hop for several minutes at a time.

Cetaceans have good eyesight, and are generally intelligent and often curious. Whales and dolphins that are often viewed by whale watching tourists seem to spy hop more often. This is an interesting interaction, whales watching the tourists who have come to watch whales.

Cetaceans have a variety of activities at the interface between water and air. Humpbacks often lie on their sides at the surface, then slap the water with their huge pectoral fins, resulting in a loud slap, an activity called pectoral slapping.

Some whales swim at an angle to the surface and surge out of the water, an activity called breaching. They may almost completely emerge from the water, and land on it with a huge splash, which seems to be simply for enjoyment. Some whales lift their tail fins out of water, and slap it against the surface, apparently for the fun of it.

Smaller cetaceans sometimes ride the bow wave created by motorboats and or other watercraft. It’s broadly similar to surfing, and seems to be also for enjoyment. 

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